Alumni/ae Fellow Nicholas Britell '99

On Friday, March 6, 2015, Hopkins was honored to welcome composer, pianist and producer Nicholas Britell ’99 back to campus as a 2014–2015 Alumni/ae Fellow.
On Friday, March 6, 2015, Hopkins was honored to welcome Nicholas Britell ’99 back to campus as a 2014–2015 Alumni/ae Fellow.

Nick is a composer, pianist and producer, currently living in New York City. In addition to graduating from Hopkins as Valedictorian, Nick is also a graduate of the Juilliard School’s Pre-College Division and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard University. Nick was an avid musician throughout his school career, but after Harvard he went first into the finance world and worked on Wall Street to support himself. While teaching himself how to make it in finance, even helping start a hedge fund, Nick spent his spare time composing music for independent films and performing piano concerts. Resolving to pursue his passion for music full-time, he decided to leave Wall Street for a career as a film composer. Fast forward a few years, and Nick has carved an impressive path in the industry. Most recently, Nick co-produced the film Whiplash, which was nominated for five awards at the 87th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and was the winner of three Oscars for Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Supporting Actor. Nick also wrote and arranged the on-screen violin music and spiritual songs for the Academy Award-winning film, 12 Years A Slave.

In his assembly presentation, Nick showed clips of a few pieces from 12 Years A Slave, and explained how the music sets the tone for a movie. He also shared the complexities of his research for 12 Years A Slave and discussed the challenges of re-imagining the music of the 1840’s. Next, Nick gave an engaging demonstration of the evolution of a movie score, sharing a clip from an upcoming documentary, replaying it with each of the scores he created to go with it, from first to last take.

Nick told the students that his time at Hopkins prepared him well for the winding “circuitous” path he took to get where he is today. The critical thinking skills he learned at Hopkins helped him to connect the dots between the things that he enjoyed, and have the confidence to take a chance, and he says he thinks about his Hopkins education every day.

After assembly, Nick visited a number of classes. In Economics with Richard Thornbugh, Nick and the class discussed the economics of companies like Spotify, Pandora and Netflix. Nick visited with the Choral Music and Instrumental Music classes, where he answered questions and listened to students perform. In Dark Romanticism with Ian Melchinger, the students pitched movie ideas to Nick, complete with musical score suggestions. Nick also took a coffee break in the cafe, where a crowd of students were eager to chat with him about the programs he uses for mixing and about his college hiphop band, The Witness Protection Program (The WPP).

The morning ended with a luncheon in the Alumni/ae House, where Head of School Barbara Riley thanked Nick for his generosity with his time and sharing his experience with the school. Everyone who had the chance to hear Nick speak or engage with him throughout the day left feeling inspired and excited to see what he will be working on next.

Please see the attached videos to see some clips of Nick’s assembly presentation (which has been edited for copyright issues).